Damage and Health

Just about any role-play game requires a system to represent the character’s health, to record any damage and injuries they might suffer and, if the character is fortunate enough to survive, any lingering effects and the extent to which they heal. The focus in the Lombard laws on tariffs of composition for injuries and killings, naturally means that this will play a fundamental role in the Langobard RPG. The first question to consider with a health system is how to balance complexity of detail with simplicity of use, and how to place that within a system that encompasses all it’s possible aspects.

The simplest system would be to have a set number of health points that each successful attack removed a portion of until the character ran out of points and died. Say for instance, the character has 25 health, and a successful attack from a sword does ‘2d6’ damage (that is to say, the sum of two six-sided dice, a value between 2 and 12 inclusive). As the rolls stack up, the health of the character decreases until ultimately they die (or, you know, escape their fate somehow). While this is certainly a smooth, clean and easy system, it lacks texture and narrative depth. And with a source material as explicit as the Lombard laws, it makes for a poor representation. Before creating a rule system for health, then, let us first survey the different types of injury and damage referred to in the laws.

The injury tariffs in the Edictus are preceded by a number of clauses on beating, disturbances and the striking of blows in general. Rothari No. 45 explicitly marks a duality between blows and specific injuries, with the composition due for specific injuries then being detailed in the clauses following. Prior to that, Rothari No. 44 gives a composition of 3 solidi for striking a freeman with a fist, or double that for striking him on the ear. The more serious injury of cutting off a freeman’s ear is ranked at a quarter of his widrigild or praetium, that is the amount that would have been paid should he have been killed. (Following the later laws of Liutprand, the praetium for a landless freeman is given as 150 solidi, or 300 solidi for a landed freeman, Liutprand No. 62).

From the damage arising from physical violence, two distinct degrees of severity can be seen. Any ordinary blow, or a permanent injury such as the aforementioned cutting off of an ear. The injury tariffs detail many such permanent wounds, from the gouging out of an eye (Rothari No. 48), cutting of noses or lips (Rothari Nos 49 and 50, respectively), the knocking out of various teeth (Rothari Nos 51-52) through to the cutting off of hands and feet, to fingers and toes (Rothari Nos 62, 68, 63-67 and 69-73, respectively).

Returning to the ears once more an intermediate level of injury can also be seen in the laws, as Rothari No. 56 gives a composition of sixteen solidi should a freeman be struck and wounded on the ear, but in a way that the ear (eventually) heals. Similar concerns are outlined for a blow that wounds the nose, but which heals leaving only a scar (Rothari No. 55), or to the face in general (Rothari No. 54). Two adjacent clauses on injuries to the arm of a freeman give a composition of sixteen solidi if the arm is pierced (Rothari No. 57), or eight solidi if it is not pierced (Rothari No. 58). At least three levels of damage can therefore be identified here:

  1. An ordinary blow or strike, that causes no lasting damage,
  2. A severe wound that may heal with time, and
  3. A permanent wound, in which part of the body is cut off.

In the case of hands, however, a further degree of severity is suggested: Rothari No. 62 gives half the praetium if the hand is completely severed, but only quarter if the hand is paralysed but remains attached. Both injuries are clearly permanent, but the laws recognise a degree of difference between the injury types. The same situation is seen with feet in Rothari No. 68, but no other clause makes a distinction between paralysing and severing. In rules terms, is this distinction too much detail to add, especially considering that the laws address it only in the case of hands and feet?

The best response to the situation here seems to me to be using this general scale of severity for wounds, and then using specific traits for specific injuries, especially in relationship to the permanent wounds in which a body part is paralysed or severed. As referred to in some of the previous blog posts (such as the discussion on skills of perception), the loss of specific organs may likely have an adverse affect when attempting to use specific skills. By establishing the permanent wounds with a corresponding injury, a negative modifier can also be attached to be applied as appropriate. For example, the aforementioned loss of an ear, might result in a -2 modifier to the dicepool (see arbitration) when the character is trying to hear something on their injured side, a -1 modifier for overall hearing, and have no adverse effect if they were using their remaining ear. Having this set as a descriptive trait either without a prescribed modifier or else with a base modifier then, seems the best approach. When the modifier is used, and whether it is adapted to fit the situation, then will be in the hands of players and Host.

Not every type of injury, however, is covered in the laws. Although many are hinted at. Most of the injuries listed in the tariffs refer to external wounds, while the internal organs are not addressed. In the case of poisoning, for instance, a person to whom poison is administered but who does not die, is awarded as composition half their praetium (Rothari Nos 140 and 142). In many ways this makes sense: if the victim had survived the attempt on their life, there would presumably have been no way that the judges could evaluate the exact extent of damage caused to the internal organs without causing further injury in the process.
Damage from fire is also addressed. While most of the focus in the clauses addressing fire is property damage, Rothari No. 147 also addresses injuries caused by a flaming brand taken from the hearth. Here, though, the focus is on liability, determined by the distance from the hearth – within nine feet of the fire, the victim should have been more careful as they knew it was a dangerous place to be, beyond that the wielder of the flaming brand has greater responsibility for any damage they inflicted. Nothing is said here, however, about burns as a type of injury, and the actual wounds inflicted are assessed using the same tariffs as for other physical injuries.

Another direction to be considered is Rothari No. 180, which addresses a girl or woman who becomes ‘leperous, mad or blind in both eyes’ after she has been betrothed. The focus of this law is basically to give the man a get-out-of-marriage-free clause, on account that it was not his fault but due to ‘her weighty sins’ that she was so afflicted. Here, though, there are still things to consider: should mental health come under the physical health and injury system? I would think not – but the diseases such as leprosy, or whatever caused the afflicted woman’s blindness should. Another question arises from this to, as game makers in the modern world do we apply our knowledge of diseases and contamination to this situation, or do we follow the mechanism outlined in the laws? My instinct is to the former in the rules, and letting the latter be explored in story.

If a character suffers enough damage to their health, they die. Some types of injury, however, are so potent that death is the likely outcome regardless of how few or many injuries the victim had already sustained. The final level for measuring health then, will be death. More explicitly, however, is the need for a most severe level of injury, the fatal wound.

If we add this to the list outlined previously, we now have four types of wound of increasing severity:

  1. Ordinary Wound, that causes no lasting damage,
  2. Severe Wound that may heal with time,
  3. Permanent Wound, in which part of the body is cut off or paralysed, and may result in a specific Injury trait.
  4. Fatal Wound, from which the character (almost certainly) dies soon after receiving.

Needless to say, the severity escalates quickly. The character will still have a number of health point, I am thinking seven (7) at this point, although that may change as the rules and combat system are smoothed out. Each of these seven wound slots can suffer damage of any of the first three levels of severity. If all seven are filled and a further wound is taken, or a Fatal Wound is inflicted straight off then, barring luck and immediate medical help, the character dies.


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